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Schmidt's trial starts with crash witnesses

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 1:00 p.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 12:29 a.m. CST
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Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com Patricia Schmidt, 48, of Sycamore, sits at the defense table Tuesday, January 28, 2014, during the first day of her trial. She is accused of reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving in the Feb. 21, 2011, crash that killed two people.

SYCAMORE – Jennifer Schopfer found no pulse on Tim Getzelman and was unsure if she found a pulse on Lexi Weber when she came upon a fatal car crash about 5:30 p.m. Feb. 21, 2011.

But Schopfer, an off-duty nurse, had a short conversation with Patricia Schmidt when she approached the pickup truck that had collided with Getzelman's white Pontiac Grand Am, Schopfer testified Tuesday.

"I asked if [Schmidt] was OK, and she said, 'I'm fine,' " Schopfer said. "[Every] question I asked was either an, 'I'm fine' or 'no.' "

Whether Schmidt really was fine is at issue a trial that started Tuesday and will continue March 3.

Schmidt was diagnosed with a seizure condition three years before the fatal crash, and doctors told her not to drive or operate heavy machinery while she was taking her medication, DeKalb County Assistant State's Attorney Phil Montgomery said.

Schmidt, 48, of the of the 28500 block of Brickville Road, is accused of reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving in connection with the crash at the intersection of Route 23 and Peace Road in Sycamore.

If convicted of the more serious charge, reckless homicide, she could be sentenced to probation or up to 5 years in prison. Getzelman, a 21-year-old Sycamore High School graduate, died at the scene, while Weber, a 21-year-old Kaneland High School graduate, died shortly after.

Schmidt has maintained her innocence, and her attorney, Gregg Smith, did not give an opening statement Tuesday to detail her side of the case. At Schmidt's request, DeKalb County Presiding Judge Robbin Stuckert, rather than a jury, will decide her guilt or innocence.

She has been free since posting $50,000 bail April 6, 2011.

Prosecutors called eight witnesses Tuesday: four witnesses who were at the scene of the crash, both victims' mothers and two police officials. Witnesses at the scene said Schmidt's vehicle appeared to be speeding at above the 45 mph limit just before the crash.

Meanwhile, Sycamore police detective Daniel Hoffman estimated Getzelman was driving 24 mph a second before the crash. But Schmidt's lawyer objected to that testimony, saying devices recording crash information obtained from both vehicles was not tested for their proficiency. Stuckert sustained those objections.

In a recorded interview with police April 6, 2011, Schmidt said she was taking multiple prescription medications for conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. She declined to tell police which, if any, medications she took the day of the accident. One of those medications, lorazepam, has drowsiness listed as a side effect.

But Schmidt told police she never had a seizure while driving and that her seizures weren’t the type where she loses consciousness, has convulsions or falls, said George Maness, a former Sycamore police officer on scene on the day of the crash.

Montgomery played police interviews recorded from both before and after Schmidt was arrested. Schmidt's memory during both interviews seemed fuzzy yet consistent. She repeatedly said in the recorded videos she did not remember what happened.

"I have bits and pieces, but I'm not sure what happened first," Schmidt said in the first interview.

In the second interview, Schmidt said she remembers switching on her windshield wipers after hearing a report on the radio that there was a black ice warning in the area.

"That’s the last memory I have until I was sitting in a ditch," Schmidt said.

When Schmidt was later brought in for questioning, Maness asked her off the cuff whether she had any seizures in the past. Schmidt replied that her last seizure was Feb. 6, 2011, 15 days before the crash, Maness said.

Both victims' mothers, Dawn Weber and Tamara Getzelman, testified briefly. Weber, with tissues in her clenched hand, began to cry when prosecutors asked her when her daughter was born.

"I saw her last at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 21, 2011," Weber said. "We were in the kitchen, and she was getting ready to go to breakfast with her friends on her day off."

The case will continue at 10 a.m. March 3. Prosecutors expect to call accident reconstruction experts to the stand as the trial continues.

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